Home Sites Essays Temples Katha

The area now known as Dhaka was urbanised as early as the 7th century and was part of the Pala and Sena empires. The city may have been named after the Dhakeshwari temple built here by Ballal Sena in the 12th century. After the Sena dynasty, Dhaka was ruled by Turkish and Afghan governors until 1608 when it became part of the Mughal empire and rose to prominence as the capital of the Bengal subah. The Lalbagh Fort seen here is a Mughal palace fortress in southwest Dhaka. Its construction was started in the mid 17th century by Prince Muhammad Azam but he was recalled by Aurangzeb before the work could complete. His successor, Shaista Khan, did not continue the work, even though he served as governor for 24 years. The fort contains three prominent buildings - the tomb of Bibi Pari (Shaista Khan's daughter), the mosque (seen here, left) and the Diwan-i-Aam (right) - laid out in a walled enclosure with symmetrical gardens and waterways.

Ahsan Manzil
The Ahsan Manzil was built much later in the 19th century as a riverside mansion of the Nawabs of Dhaka on the grounds of a Mughal palace. It was by built by Nawab Abdul Ghani and named after his son Ahsanulla who as nawab rebuilt it twice after it was damaged, first by a tornado and then an eartquake. The Manzil is a two-storied palace built on a raised platform. The wide stairway seen here leads from a riverside garden to the first floor which has a large drawing room, library, card room, and a spacious Jalsaghar. On the ground floor are the dining room and darbar halls which are decorated with white, green and yellow ceramic tiles.

About 27 km southeast of Dhaka, the medieval town of Sonargaon was an administrative centre, port and mint-town in the 14th century, mentioned in the accounts of travelers like Ibn Batuta, Ma Huan, and Ralph Fitch. Its importance declined in the Mughal period when Dhaka rose to prominence but it regained some importance in the 19th century when Panam Nagar was established as a trading centre in cotton fabrics, chiefly English piece goods. Hindu merchants built palatial houses here in an ornate European style. Today the overgrown ruins of these stand on both sides of a main village thoroughfare. Slightly further away in the woods near a pond is an high octagonal Siva temple. This brick two-storeyed temple is built in a spired style that flourished in eastern Bengal in the 19th century. The main arched entrance is matched with arched recesses on each side and on both levels. Above are wide horizontal bands below a curved cornice.

Sadar Bari
The largest palace in Sonargaon is the mansion of the zamindar of Sonargaon, built in 1901. Like most zamindar houses of this time, this was built by Indian masons but modeled on European palaces, which resulted in a blend of styles.

Entrance Hall
Its brick entrance hall has baroque decoration and elaborate painting on plaster while on the upper level, European pillars flank Mughal arches.

Courtyard Verandah
An inner courtyard is surrounded by arcaded verandahs. While the column capitals are baroque in style, the bases have pots or purnaghatas, a feature of Hindu architecture.

One part of the palace is now converted into a Craft Museum, with a 19th century wooden palanquin as an exhibit in its courtyard.

Goaldi Mosque
Sonargaon also has one of the best preserved brick mosques from the Husain Shahi period. The Goaldi Masjid was built by Mulla Hizabar Akbar Khan in the early 16th century, during the reign of Alauddin Husain Shah. This mosque is more elegant and ornate compared to the earlier Sultanate mosques at Bagerhat. Each wall has three arched entrances, the central arch slightly higher than the others. A single graceful hemispherical dome rises above the slightly curved cornice.

Terracotta Decoration
Miniature arches with teracotta designs are placed below the cornice and above the entrance arches. Rounded corner turrets that rise upto the cornice and have two mouldings at the centre and triple mouldings at the base, just above which are more terracotta arches. The space between the arches has ornamentation in the form of a plaque that contains an ornate, recessed arch with a chain and bell and lotus spandrels. This is framed by a border containing floral and vine scrolls.

Photos and Text © Amit Guha